Tag Archives: Identity

Blowhard Insight

David Mazzotta gets me:

The trick when surfing these days is not to find curious bits of entertainment news that is ahead of the curve, but to find high quality thoughtful posting; things of intellectual or critical value that you can really sink your teeth into. In that respect, the web is no different than any other source of communication. So let me recommend four “blogs” where I regularly find thoughtful posts. Were I still an old school blogger, I bet 80% my posts would come from these places.  First and foremost is Overcoming Bias.

Yes, thoughtful is what I’m trying for.  One of the other three blogs is 2blowhards, where I find this insightful gem:

Killing time waiting for The Wife at the hair salon, I leafed through some women’s magazines. … I had a good time noting down some of the fantasies … these magazines’ readers enjoy indulging in:

  • Spend a year in a foreign country, and you’ll discover your true self. …
  • Embracing who and what you are — whatever that means — will make you look ten years younger.
  • Jobs aren’t about selling something others are willing to pay for. Jobs are about personal fulfillment. …
  • Emotions — no matter which, no matter when — need to be faced and worked-through. Then you’ll feel great.
  • Following your instincts and your feelings will always work out for the best. …
  • The troubles of movie stars are just like yours.

No doubt marketing to men involves similarly implausible fantasies.  Marketing seems all about identity, something economists know relatively little about. Makes me want to study the subject more.

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Improved Cores Unwanted

The most interesting thing I learned at the Symposium last weekend was this two year old paper on a survey about enhancement.  Its main result was that the more people considered a feature to be a key part of their identity, the less they wanted to improve it.   Few folks want to improve their empathy, self-confidence, or self-control, while more folks want to enhance their rote memory, math ability, and wakefulness.   I suspect something similar holds for beliefs: the more important a belief is to our identity, the less eager we are to improve that belief via evidence or analysis.  Beware identifying with beliefs!

The paper’s main table:


Hat tip to Anders Sandberg.

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Avoid Identifying With Anything?

From Paul Graham's recent essay:

I think what religion and politics have in common is that they become part of people's identity, and people can never have a fruitful argument about something that's part of their identity. By definition they're partisan.

Which topics engage people's identity depends on the people, not the topic. For example, a discussion about a battle that included citizens of one or more of the countries involved would probably degenerate into a political argument. But a discussion today about a battle that took place in the Bronze Age probably wouldn't. No one would know what side to be on. So it's not politics that's the source of the trouble, but identity. When people say a discussion has degenerated into a religious war, what they really mean is that it has started to be driven mostly by people's identities. . . .

The most intriguing thing about this theory, if it's right, is that it explains not merely which kinds of discussions to avoid, but how to have better ideas. If people can't think clearly about anything that has become part of their identity, then all other things being equal, the best plan is to let as few things into your identity as possible.

Most people reading this will already be fairly tolerant. But there is a step beyond thinking of yourself as x but tolerating y: not even to consider yourself an x. The more labels you have for yourself, the dumber they make you.

Via Andy McKenzie.

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Beware Identity

More from Paul Graham’s fantastic essay on lying to kids:

Some parents feel a strong adherence to an ethnic or religious group and want their kids to feel it too. This usually requires two different kinds of lying: the first is to tell the child that he or she is an X, and the second is whatever specific lies Xes differentiate themselves by believing. …

Almost anything else you tell a kid, they can change their mind about later when they start to think for themselves. But if you tell a kid they’re a member of a certain group, that seems nearly impossible to shake. … When parents are of different religions, they’ll often agree between themselves that their children will be "raised as Xes." And it works. The kids obligingly grow up considering themselves as Xes …

If you want to set yourself apart from other people, you have to do things that are arbitrary, and believe things that are false. And after having spent their whole lives doing things that are arbitrary and believing things that are false, and being regarded as odd by "outsiders" on that account, the cognitive dissonance pushing children to regard themselves as Xes must be enormous. If they aren’t an X, why are they attached to all these arbitrary beliefs and customs? …

This form of lie is not without its uses. … You can tell the child that in addition to never wearing the color yellow, believing the world was created by a giant rabbit, and always snapping their fingers before eating fish, Xes are also particularly honest and industrious.  Then X children will grow up feeling it’s part of their identity to be honest and industrious.

I try to be wary of beliefs attributed to me via some part of my being a nerdy middle-age white male American economist homeowner parent.  I do not want any such feature to on net influence my beliefs (other than through influencing my truth-seeking).  Do read the whole Graham essay, by the way – it is gold. 

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